On the eve of their 70th anniversary last week, the popular Three Brothers Bakery was preparing to celebrate when its owners received notice it had lost its Kosher certification.
Because Three Brothers was a Kosher bakery, it was required to close during the eight days of Passover. A year ago, the loans were still in a grace period. So the bakery closed except for its commercial business through the back door, which the Houston Kashruth Association had allowed since Hurricane Ike in 2008. However, this year the payments were rolling and due. Jucker and Bobby made the decision in April to take the risk of staying open so they could pay their loans. About nine days after Passover, they received the news.
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“The Houston Kashruth Association (HKA) proudly provided Kosher certification to Three Brothers Bakery for most of its 70 years,” according to a written statement from the HKA. “The HKA is grateful for our long-standing relationship with the Jucker family, and while we understand that theirs was a difficult business decision, it does preclude us from continuing the bakery’s Kosher certification. Our decision was made with appreciation that the bakery will certainly be missed by the Kosher community, and we wish Three Brothers Bakery continued success.”
The bakery, now with three locations, was started by three brothers who came to America after surviving the Holocaust. They were a family of bakers, and Bobby is a fifth-generation baker. Jucker said Bobby’s family baking has been Kosher for nearly 200 years, since they started back in Poland.
She said Harvey impacted their business in ways well beyond the actual physical damage.
“There wasn’t enough insurance coverage. So flood insurance covers what’s in your building, so if there’s anything outside your building, (it is not covered). It doesn’t cover lost revenues,” Jucker said. “These tend to be million-dollar events for us, and we actually calculated our payroll dollars spent on recovery over the course because it’s not like you just clean up and reopen. I mean there’s a whole lot more that goes into it. And everybody’s working overtime. It was three months of payroll that we spent on Harvey recovery.”
Three Brothers also provides health care coverage and a 401k plan to their employees. Jucker added that the financial burden of health care is greater for food service and retail establishments as employees contribute a smaller amount of the costs (because they make less than other industries) and the employers pay the rest.
With being closed for Passover last year, a couple of holidays and weather days, Jucker figures the bakery missed out on about a month’s revenues and said she and Bobby had to evaluate the financial facts in front of them. “We just couldn’t swing everything. I mean because all those things I’m describing have to come from profits, and if you’re closed, it creates a huge financial burden. And we just frankly couldn’t afford it anymore.”
The Juckers are already considering ideas to make up the income they will lose from not being Kosher anymore. Some of their ideas include selling boxed lunches for corporate events, expanding their selections and serving breakfast options.
Jucker said she regrets that a bakery with a long and rich history of being Kosher lost that status, particularly for a financial decision and not for something like putting bacon in challah or mixing meat and dairy. But for her, it was a question of survival.
“You can be a permanently closed Kosher bakery or you can be a bakery that makes Jewish-style baked goods that’s open. Those were the two options.”